Year 5, Piece Twenty-Two: 40. Purple Blue
The self and the same river twice.
“You can’t step in the same river twice.”
This phrase popped into my head a few times over the last couple of weeks. I never thought about where it originated until now. Looking it up, it is attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Well, even if he has “clit” in his name, he’s still pretty cranky, according to that Wikipedia page. Maybe it’s better to quote Octavia Butler here: “God is change.” As in the first tenet of the religion Earthseed in the Parable of the Sower:
“All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
∞ = Δ”
Oh, Δ. The symbol for change. Right now Delta is more than a symbol, a mutation spreading disease and fear as Covid-19 transforms. But don’t be afraid of change, perhaps coronavirus tells us. Or brace yourself for it.
Or maybe we don’t need to talk about coronavirus right now.
Change may be the only lasting truth. But truthfully, the reason I brought up change in the first place here is that lately water has been making me think the opposite. Rather than not being able to step in the same river twice, it feels like every river is the same and I can never actually step in a different river.
Not because the river isn’t changing. Of course it is. But all bodies of water are connected: rivers, lakes, oceans, even our own animal bodies. Perhaps every body of water I encounter is indeed the same body of water.
So here are two different experiences of two very different bodies of water last week.
One: We’ve been jumping into the ocean for maybe 13 sets of solstices now. The most visceral of rituals, it quite simply involves taking a cold plunge into a body of water around sunrise or sunset on the winter and summer solstice. Though so many things have happened over those years, each time the sun returns to the same spot, I return to the same ocean, and I am still the same person. Even if I don’t behave the same way, or the ocean for that matter.
When I offered my naked body to the waves this solstice, the ocean answered by tossing my body out. I had run into the cold Pacific screaming with boldness and glee. I was lingering up to my thighs for a while in the crashing waves, perhaps the last person in the group to fully submerge. I finally made the decision to go under, and the wave that was approaching at just that moment happened to be, well, huge. In the second or two that I watched the wave build and tower over my head, it felt like my only choice was to dive right into the wall of water in front me.
I was immediately tumbled backwards, first onto my butt and then on my back and then on my head and then back onto my butt, finally spilled out onto the beach sitting up. My back was scraped and scratched and my hair was full of sand, but it felt like the ocean was greeting me, dominating me, teaching me. Saying: “Hi There. I’m powerful and you’re small. Happy Solstice.”
It was not the first time the Ocean has taught me this lesson. I didn’t not like it.
Two: Instead of turbulent, infinite water, this was placid, contained water. A gorgeous lake nestled in rolling hills, or what to my Midwestern eyes I would call mountains. Away for the weekend (the weekend!) with friends (with friends!) and without children (without children!) and without my partner even.
It was very hot out, and I always bristle at the idea of dragging my pale ass to a beach in the middle of the day because it means a constant campaign of sun protection. But I also always forget how goshdarn pleasant it is to swim, to be near water on a hot day. So I swam and swam. I swam out to the middle of the lake. I could see my friends getting farther away on one side, and on the other side I could see a mother who was there supervising three children. And me in the middle, being myself. Looking at my life from above. Held by the water, floating and wondering.
That whole weekend I was able to inhabit a self that I hadn’t spent more than a couple hours with in years. A self that can sit and chat without constant interruption, a self that can catch up with old friends and make new ones, a self that can participate in and lead group ritual, a self that can perform as a stripping space pickle. A self that can accidentally smoke too much and stay up too late in a hot tub watching the rising Moon chase a star that turns out to be Saturn. A self that can swim without supervising anyone else.
So I swam and wondered about this self I am creating, this rainbow self, with all of these colors and cards and pictures and words. What is this practice I am going deeper and deeper into? What is the significance of all this pattern recognition, this pattern generation?
Coalescing a story around symbols each week is not unlike trying to coalesce a self around your circumstances. Where you born, who you were born to, what genitals you were born with. Who you keep close and what you hold sacred. All the things that have happened to you and all the things you choose to do with your time.
We are constantly trying to make sense of the fragments of our experiences, trying to integrate them into a self. Looking at some colors or cards or constellations and crafting a narrative from how they hang together is not so different from daily life, putting together the pieces of a self.
Sometimes people tell me that they admire my ability to stay myself through parenthood, or motherhood specifically. To stay active and weird. And some of that comes from some serious commitment and effort, in the case of this project anyway. But mostly I can’t help but be myself, tenaciously. Can anyone? One of the biggest surprises of motherhood so far has been how much I am still the exact same person.
I somehow expected that motherhood would totally transform me, and when I found out I was pregnant I was terrified. Not of the idea of having a child, but of losing myself. I was convinced that the self I had known was about to die and be replaced by some Mom Self. A Mom Self with new concerns and preoccupations, all of them different from the ones I had before and all of them categorically selfish, irrelevant, and boring. A totally judgmental and even patriarchal fear perhaps, but I was not in a rational place.
As it turned out, I was still the same person. I am the same person. And utterly different. And essentially the same.
With parenthood does come new parts to this self too. I didn’t anticipate liking those new parts, but I really do. It’s fun being a parent, seeing the world through literally new eyes. It’s gratifying. There are parts of my Mom Self that scare me, but I am pretty sure those were always there and are just finding new triggers.
Our selves are expressed in relationship to others, in communication with others. So perhaps being a parent doesn’t create new parts of myself, it actually creates new relationships that bring out those parts. I like these little people that we are raising. I like them a lot. I like talking to them, I like holding them, I even like wiping their snotty noses and reminding them to blow.
When I pulled Purple Blue this week, I drew a Venn Diagram. Two circles representing two halves of myself, or two different selves. The family self and the priestexx artist performer self. I captioned it: “Fear of Sacrificing a Self. But what is the blend?” And next to that: “What color do they make together?”
I spend so much time thinking about combinations of colors, but I don’t often think about what color the two mixed together would be. In this case, if you mix Purple and Blue, you actually get more Purple.
If you have parts of your identity and your sexuality that are expressed in relation to other people, then it can feel like who you spend your time with shapes who you are in that time. It was the tail end of Pride Month, so I took those circles and colored them Magenta and Blue, combining to make Purple, using the hexcodes of the bisexual pride flag. I spend my time these days in partnership with a cis mostly-het man, and I hope to for the rest of my life, with that particular person anyway. That does not erase my queerness. I don’t have to choose a magenta circle or a blue circle, or even dwell in where the circles intersect. They are all part of me, all shifting and changing but contained in a self that is always the same.
I don’t know if these metaphors add up, but maybe it doesn’t matter. Every moment you are alive you are expressing a self, expressing your selfness. A self might be many intersecting circles, each ultimately separate. Or perhaps a self is just their intersection, the way these individual expressions of self blend over time. The self may be the integration, it may be a multiplicity, or it may be individual states, expressing different identities at different times like putting on different outfits.
Purple is awareness, wisdom, identity, self, woo. Blue is communication, expression, and water. Purple Blue: expression within identity, within self. What parts of yourself do you express at any given time? How do you communicate them to the world?
Whether and no matter how you act on them, they are still there, still part of you. Still part of a self that is a container for the constantly changing.